Near-Fatal Industrial Accident Triggers Health and Safety Appeal

Many people do dangerous jobs, but employers are required by law to do all in their power to minimise risks, and the consequences of failing to do so can be severe. In one case, an equipment maintenance company was served with an improvement notice under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 after a near-fatal accident.

A worker suffered catastrophic injuries when he fell through the floor of the cab of a straddle carrier that was used to shift lorry containers and fell 14 metres to the ground. A panel had been removed from the floor during maintenance work and, although a sign had been put in place indicating that the straddle carrier was not in use, it did not prevent access and was inadequate and misleading.

Following an investigation by a health and safety officer, the man’s employer was served with the notice, which required various systemic and physical improvements to be made that were designed to eliminate the risk of a recurrence. The employer appealed against the notice to an Employment Tribunal (ET).

The employer’s staff worked in the same yard as others who were employed by another company and it was asserted that the latter was to blame for the creation of the hazard. The employer argued that it did have a system in place that would have prevented the accident victim from gaining access to the cab.

In dismissing the appeal, however, the ET noted that both companies’ employees had worked together in close proximity and the baton of responsibility for various tasks had been passed between them on an ad hoc basis. That had led to confusion and increased risk on the site and the employer’s assertion that it was not at fault was not supported by evidence. The officer had reasonably formed the view that the employer had contravened one or more health and safety rules and that such contravention was likely to continue or be repeated.

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